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Discussion: What needs to change with the Lions’ defense?

The Detroit Lions may have defeated the Chargers, but it left more questions than answers about the state of the defense.

NFL: NOV 12 Lions at Chargers Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions defeated the Los Angeles Chargers to move to 7-2 on the season, but the victory was no small feat.

After dominating the Las Vegas Raiders prior to their bye, it seemed like the Lions defense had found its form, and the extra week to prepare for the depleted Chargers offense provided an opportunity to make a statement. It was a statement indeed but for the wrong reasons. Chargers Justin Herbert and Keenan Allen were giving the Lions headaches, with Herbert totaling four touchdown passes, two of which went to Allen.

Their Week 10 game against the Chargers could very well have turned into a loss, as the Lions were not able to overcome 37 and 38-point obstacles in their two prior losses. But thanks to holding the ball on the final possession and a clutch Riley Patterson field goal, the Lions avoided overtime and a loss. Yet while the offense showed up for the shootout, the defense went missing in action after a solid first quarter.

The Lions are putting themselves in a good position for a playoff run, but defensive outings like these give pause to how long that run could feasibly be. The notion of defense winning championships exists for good reasons, as countless stellar offenses have been shut down in the postseason. If the Lions want to avoid such a fate, how can their defense turn into a more formidable opponent?

Today’s Question of the Day is:

What needs to change with the Lions’ defense?

My answer: Their inconsistent pass rush. For as much as the secondary struggled against the Chargers on Sunday. I think the pass rush deserves a sizable amount of blame.

The Lions currently have 21 sacks on the season, which is in the lower half of the league. Yet the indictment of their pass rush is the distribution of these sacks:

Week 1 vs. Kansas City Chiefs: 0 sacks
Week 2 vs. Seattle Seahawks: 1 sack
Week 3 vs. Atlanta Falcons: 7 sacks
Week 4 vs. Green Bay Packers: 5 sacks
Week 5 vs. Carolina Panthers: 1 sack
Week 6 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 1 sack
Week 7 vs. Baltimore Ravens: 0 sacks
Week 8 vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 6 sacks
Week 10 vs. Los Angeles Chargers: 0 sacks

A staggering 18 of their 21 sacks (86 percent) have come in three games, each of which was against a poor quarterback, a poor offensive line, or both. The Lions cannot bill themselves as a dangerous pass rush if it comes in waves like this against an exploitable foe.

As has been the case all season, the only consistent pass rusher has been Aidan Hutchinson. Entering the week, he was tied for third in the NFL with pressures with 46. His next closest teammate? John Cominsky, whose 21 pressures were tied for 69th in the league. The only Lions with double-digit pressures entering Week 10 were Hutchinson, Cominsky, Alim McNeill (20), Charles Harris (18), and Benito Jones (11). That is not a recipe for success.

You can argue about missed holding calls, but the fact remains that the pass rush needs to get home on a more consistent basis. Herbert had eons to throw on Sunday, and it showed in the second half when he and Allen were picking apart the defense. Aside from Hutchinson, the pass rushing options are more good than great, and that doesn’t cut it most weeks. McNeill is a talented defensive tackle, but his pass rushing impact will always be limited by his role. The likes of Cominsky, Harris, Romeo and Julian Okwara, and Josh Paschal are closer to rotational pieces than true starting-caliber pass rushers. These types of players are valuable to have on a roster, but they do not make up for an elite talent.

There is a chance that James Houston returns and flashes the potential he showed as a rookie, but the more likely scenario is that the Lions need to explore a top-tier pass rusher to pair with Hutchinson next offseason. I do not think the Lions defense is “38 points per game” bad, but they need to demonstrate their pass rush can show up against better-than-average teams.

What needs to change with the Lions defense to avoid another 38-point outing? Let us know in the comments.

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